Coronavirus: 80 anti-lockdown protesters converge on downtown Woodstock

Demonstrators begin a march down Dundas Street following Sunday's anti-lockdown rally in Woodstock. Andrew Graham / Global News

Apart from the weather, things stayed calm on Sunday in Woodstock, Ont., as dozens gathered downtown for a rally against COVID-19 health measures.

The rally began in the afternoon and a saw a crowd of about 80 people huddled under tents at Museum Square as rain fell periodically on the city.

Read more: Coronavirus: St. Thomas, Ont., police investigating anti-lockdown rally

Those attending voiced opposition to mandatory masking bylaws, along with other health restrictions, and expressed skepticism on the severity of COVID-19 and its accompanying pandemic.

Sunday’s rally comes one day after similar protests were held in Sarnia and St. Thomas, with the latter drawing a crowd of about 200.

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Woodstock police kept a close eye on the crowd with a number of officers posted throughout the area.

“We’re trying to balance the COVID restrictions, as well as people’s right to protest,” said community service officer Shaylyn Jackson.

Both Woodstock police Chief Daryl Longworth and Mayor Trevor Birtch issued statements ahead of Sunday’s rally, with Longworth assuring that public safety would be upheld and Birtch asking folks to avoid attending or interacting with the protest.

Jackson felt both statements helped keep numbers low on Sunday, with few bystanders seen and most businesses in the area closed during the event.

“I also think the weather was probably a contributing factor to people staying home today, but I do think that their messages definitely had a positive impact,” said Jackson.

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Joel Surgeoner, a Woodstock resident who passed by Sunday’s rally, said he was glad to see the rally hadn’t drawn too large a crowd, but was still concerned that it was taking place in light of recent projections from the Ontario government.

“The province said 6,500 cases we could hit, so this is actually pretty ridiculous and irresponsible of everyone here,” said Surgeoner.

Surgeoner said he hasn’t witnessed much resistance to coronavirus-related restrictions in Woodstock apart from what he saw on Sunday. He worries of the potential spread caused by Sunday’s rally.

“Who knows where they’re from and if they’ve been exposed and now they’re possibly bringing it here.”

Read more: Ontario could see 6,000 new coronavirus cases a day by mid-December, modelling suggests

A pair of Woodstock residents who live right around the corner from where Sunday’s protest took place, Byron and Jack Dorey, held no support for those demonstrating.

“It’s a little unsettling, especially to people who may have lost people to the nasty COVID,” Byron said.

“They shouldn’t be allowed to fly Canadian flags,” Jack added.

Like Surgeoner, the two also shared concerns for the health consequences of the protest, with Byron telling Global News he doesn’t want it to turn into a super-spreader event.

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Woodstock police officers tail a march down Dundas Street following a rally against COVID-19 health measures. Andrew Graham / Global News

Soon after, police reported that they are actively investigating Sunday’s rally for any infractions related to COVID-19 restrictions.

Officers added that one warning was issued during the event for an infraction contrary to the Ontario Highway Traffic Act.

“The event remained peaceful and all necessary precautions were taken to ensure public safety,” read the statement from police.

Read more: Trudeau says holiday gatherings are on the line unless people act now

As of Sunday, Southwestern Public Health (SWPH), which covers Elgin and Oxford County, had at least 55 known active cases with a total of 436 cases reported since the pandemic began.

Seventeen of those active cases are in Woodstock, according to SWPH.

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SWPH is set to move into the Yellow-Protect tier of Ontario’s colour-coded coronavirus framework on Monday.

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